Buyer Beware: Five players to watch out for when NHL free agency opens

In honour of NHL free agency, Kevin Michie takes a closer look at some of the worst contracts Canadian teams have ever handed out, including Milan Lucic's massive deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

This year’s crop of unrestricted free agents is not particularly impressive, but that will not stop NHL teams from shelling out millions of dollars to sign them.

Here are five players (listed in alphabetical order) who probably will be paid more than they are worth when the market opens Saturday:

FREDERIK ANDERSEN

Age: 33

Previous team: Carolina Hurricanes

Previous cap hit: $4.5 million

When healthy, Andersen is capable of stringing together stretches of dominant play in net. The problem is that he has a hard time staying in the lineup. Over the past three seasons, Andersen has started 107 of 220 games for the Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. (He has won 67 of them.)

Despite playing behind Carolina’s elite defence, Andersen allowed an extra 14.1 goals last season — 52nd out of 66 goaltenders who played a minimum of 1,000 minutes. Andersen faced the fewest xGA per 60 (2.05) among that group, which underscores how much he struggled.

Overall, the list of available UFA goaltenders is full of risk, starting with Andersen.

MICHAEL BUNTING

Age: 27

Previous team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous cap hit: $950,000

Two seasons of playing alongside Auston Matthews has done wonders for Bunting, who posted 46 goals and 112 points over that span. The question is whether he can be that productive if he is not riding shotgun with a Hart Trophy-winning centre.

Bunting is a net-front nightmare who generates high-quality offence; his 0.31 expected goals per 20 minutes at 5-on-5 last season were tied for 33rd out of 503 forwards (min. 100 minutes). But with that comes the ever-present risk of Bunting crossing the line, as he did during the first round when he received a three-game suspension for checking Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak in the head.

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Blue-collar players who can keep up with superstars have value. Is Bunting the next Zach Hyman, who has thrived since leaving Toronto for Edmonton two years ago, or Ivan Barbashev, who just signed a $25 million contract after gelling with Jack Eichel in Vegas? It is hard to say.

MATT DUMBA

Age: 28 (29 on July 25)

Previous team: Minnesota Wild

Previous cap hit: $6 million

At his peak, Dumba was a game-changer on the back end. Over the past few years, though, those dynamic plays have occurred less frequently.

Dumba, who averaged 21:17 of ice time per game last season, has dialled back the risk-taking; he committed the eighth-fewest turnovers per 20 minutes (4.81) at 5-on-5 out of 287 qualified defencemen (min. 100 minutes). But Dumba is not much of a needle-mover anymore on either end of the ice.

PATRICK KANE

Age: 34

Previous team: New York Rangers

Previous cap hit: $10.5 million

The future Hall of Famer underwent hip resurfacing surgery in early June that will sideline him for four to six months, meaning he could miss the start of next season. That alone should concern interested teams. (Washington Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom, who had the same procedure last summer, was ineffective upon returning to the lineup in January.)

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There are aspects of Kane’s game that remain high-level and will not be affected by the surgery. He is still a top-tier playmaker, especially on the power play; his 0.48 completed slot passes per two minutes were tied for 27th out of 214 qualified forwards (min. 100 minutes of power-play time).

Few players possess Kane’s vision, but there is no telling what kind of shape he will be in following the hip procedure. At this stage of his career, Kane comes with too many question marks.

ALEX KILLORN

Age: 33

Previous team: Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous cap hit: $4.45 million

After 11 seasons and two championships, Killorn appears on his way out of Tampa Bay. The veteran power forward had 27 goals and 64 points last season, but he shot an unsustainable 12.2 per cent when factoring in all shot attempts — 14th out of 792 forwards who played at least 100 minutes. It certainly helped that Killorn took 68.5 per cent of his attempts from the slot, but his average true shooting percentage between the 2015-16 and 2021-22 seasons was around 7 per cent.

General managers will pay top dollar for intangibles, which Killorn certainly has. But odds are high that he will not produce at the rate he did last season.

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